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The founder and managing director of Expand Construction likes to use an interesting analogy when he discusses his company's growth strategy. Imagine an aircraft carrier. That's Expand Von Lee says, "We must always ensure we are in good shape. In between, we can send out small little battleships. If one or two sink, it will not affect my aircraft carrier. But the mothership cannot sink."
For the moment, the home-grown construction company is sill very focused on securing more construction orders in Singapore. At the start of this year, the government had projected the total value of construction contracts to be awarded in 2016 at between S$27 billion and S$34 billion, mostly driven by civil infrastructure projects. At the moment Expand is generating a revenue of about S$230 million a year - mere one percent of the total contracts available. Mr Lee believes there is a room to increase that proportion.
That said, the company has grown its topline significantly in the last six years, up from just S$70 million in 2010. Mr Lee credits this to the A1 grading, which expanded the scope of projects it could tender for, including the Housing and Development Board's built-to-order (BTO) flat projects that are worth upward of S$100 million each. It also helped that Expand was involved in high-profile projects such as the Marina Bay Waterfront Promenade connected to the Integrated Resorts in 2010 and the Supertrees at Gardens by the Bay 2011.
But the times they are-a-changin', and it is no secret now that the construction industry is going through a rough patch. Asked about this, Mr Less replies that Expand's asset-light strategy and unlisted status will help it to survive in this tepid environment. There is almost a "been-there-done-that" air about him when he says this. In recent years, foreign developer's parachuting into Singapore's development scene have intensified competition for tenders, a repeat scenario of what had happened before in 2000.
"If you ask me, is not right or wrong. I went through that period and I survived. Obviously now we are very cost-conscious and quite efficient, and we are able to compete with the Chinese. The Chinese are already entrenched here, and over the years, we've learned to compete and be on par," Mr Lee says.